A Hub of activity: Museum of Durham History prepares for grand opening
The grand opening of the History Hub, the Museum of Durham History’s first building, is still two months away, but the old bus station downtown has already hosted several events and been, indeed, a hub of information on Durham’s past. Soon it will open its refurbished space.
On Thursday, Harris Brothers Electric was installing LED light bulbs, donated by Cree, in track lighting.
“Yay!” museum executive director Katie Spencer said as the newly installed lighting was turned on for the first time. The Hub isn’t a large space, but every corner is used. A few walls went up last month to divide the space into different areas for exhibits.
“It’s a really big deal for us because we spent so much time envisioning,” Spencer said. The Hub property is owned by the city and has been leased to the Museum of Durham History since April 2012. The upfit has included clearing out bus seats and the ticket window. Carpet is down. Signage is up.
Before the grand opening on Oct. 12, exhibits will be mounted in each area. Much of the walls are windows, offering a panoramic view of downtown Durham, including tobacco buildings, the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance building, West Village, the South Bank building and even the Lucky Strike Tower in the distance. The Hub will take advantage of all those views with an exhibit called “Look Beyond the Windows.”
Eventually, the Museum of Durham History may move to another location. Spencer said they hope to outgrow the space. But for now, “we’re just excited to be here.”
The museum has received support from the city and county. Alliance Architecture has provided architecture work pro bono. There is a long list of supporters, contributors and collaborators to the museum.
Kimberly Moore, marketing director of N.C. Mutual, said they’ve been really fortunate that the History Hub is so close to the Mutual building. N.C. Mutual, the oldest African-American insurance company, was the focus of one of the recent pop-up museums at the Hub. Mutual retirees and employees have been to the Hub for events, and “for us it’s really been an extension of our heritage room, which we no longer have,” Moore said. The Museum of Durham History is a way for school children to learn about N.C. Mutual and Durham history, she said. N.C. Mutual will celebrate its 115th anniversary in October.
Another History Hub exhibit will be “Durham A to Z,” with a different aspect of Durham history highlighted each month. First up will be Advertising, followed by Bricks and Coney Island of the South. The museum will also have a touch-screen timeline that will feature high resolution photographs of significant moments in Durham’s past, like the fire of 1914. Next to it will be a board with Post-It notes so visitors can tell museum staff what they might have left out. The Story Room will be an enclosed recording space with a table where people can share their Durham stories.
The exhibit walls are mostly blank for now, but Spencer knows where it will all go.
“OK, so this is really cool right here,” she said as she explained a metal sheet with a graphic image of people hanging out windows of the Geer building. Because it is metal, they will be able to reconfigure the display using magnets. A children’s area will include a mural of a front porch.
Spencer said that when she attended an American Alliance of Museums meeting, others told her she was lucky to be starting a museum now.
“They really saw we could be flexible and nimble and like all museums, connect to the community and not just history buffs,” she said. The museum wants to draw more people using a voice that’s not just curatorial, but uses art and poetry.
“History is not sepia-toned. … It was full color to the people who lived it,” Spencer said.
Museum of Durham History board member MaryAnn Black, associate vice president for community relations for Duke University Health System, said the museum will be phenomenal for Durham. They’re working to make sure it addresses the history of Durham County in multiple ways that are inclusive, she said.
“I think that our niche is really storytelling and the space that we have will force us to do that,” said museum board member Lewis Myers, who is also business development director of The Freelon Group.
The History Hub will also refer visitors to state historic sites in Durham County like Stagville, Duke Homestead and Bennett Place.
“We have the opportunity to share history and fill in the gap,” Myers said.
DURHAM HISTORY HUB OPENING EVENT:
The grand opening of the Durham History Hub will be Oct. 12, and begins with the Durham History Parade at 10 a.m. that marches from Golden Belt on East Main Street to the Hub at 500 W. Main St. There will be three marching bands, history re-enactors, bagpipers, a women’s roller derby team and other groups in the parade. The ribbon cutting will be held at 11:30 a.m., with remarks from officials, and from noon to 5 p.m., Durham History Hub visitors will also be entertained on two stages with music, dance, storytelling, and activities for kids. The museum opens for regular hours Oct. 15. For more about the Museum of Durham History and the Hub grand opening, visit http://museumofdurhamhistory.org.